Commercial or Progressive?

Commercial or Progressive. We can’t have both.

There seems to be a repeating pattern in technology adoption. And no, I’m not thinking of the Technology Adoption Lifecycle (as popularised by e.g. Geoffrey A Moore) – although I shall borrow some of the terms from that model.

Rather, I’m noticing the way in which some smart/lucky folks invent some new and cool way of doing something, which delivers some significant increment in productivity, quality, or other aspect of (organisational) effectiveness. This particular kind of new cool something – whether a method, a tool, a service or a model – requires adopters to change their mindset to get the best out of it. Agile software development springs to mind as a classic example. Lean manufacturing, another.

No shift in mindset, little or no benefit from the new cool thing.

Innovators and Early Adopters have the frame of mind to play into this shift of mindset, and thus early results through these folks are promising, and good stories can be told. (Often these stories omit the inconvenient truth of the requisite mindset shift).

Comes the time when the groundswell of experience is such that a tipping point is reached, and the (much more numerous) Early Majority begin to take notice of the new cool thing. But these folks are a) unaware, for the most part, of the need for a shift of mindset, and b) fundamentally unlike to accept such a shift, even when informed of the need for it. So, upon adoption, these Early Majority see little of the benefits told in the stories.

At this point the smart/lucky folks, having either IPR or market presence (or both) via the Innovators’ and Early Adopters’ success stories, have reached a crossroads:

Option 1) Tell the Early majority that realising the benefits told in the stories is a very difficult proposition, requiring a fundamental, disruptive and disconcerting change in world-view, both on a personal and organisational level.

Option 2) Conceal or omit the “bad news” of option 1), and water-down or otherwise adjust the new, cool thing such that it become palatable to the Early Majority – by which I mean it does NOT require the fundamental shift of mindset to realise at least some (typically, minor, short-term) benefits.

At this crossroads, each option will require a markedly different strategy for communication, marketing and delivery of the new cool thing.

I invite you, dear reader, to consider which is the commercial, and which the progressive option? And also which option most vested folks are likely to take, especially when there are large amounts of money, influence, ego, etc. at stake?

I also invite you to consider the wider implications of each option: Which option is more likely to lead to the wholesale, worldwide realisation of the benefits the Innovators and Early Adopters reported in the new cool thing? And which to the ultimate disappointment in, and thereby discrediting of, said new cool thing?

– Bob

  1. According to Moore’s model, while the early adopters seek revolution, the early majority merely wants evolution. It often is the case that a mindset change is out of the question to begin with, due to its invasive nature and radical changes required. The team seeks to incrementally improve its existence. As a result they adopt a shallow implementation of the new something, with all the problems brought by this naive approach.

    So, I would argue that a lot of times the marketing material is clear enough, it’s just that the “customer” chose to read only a part of it and still thinks they would get the full benefits.

  2. Even a “fundamental, disruptive and disconcerting change in world-view” is attained by a succession of small steps, which may or may not culminate in an epiphany.

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